BURPEE, RICHARD E., merchant, Baptist minister, and missionary; b. 1810 in York County, N.B., son of Thomas Burpee and Esther Gallop; m. Laleah Johnston, niece of James William Johnston*, and they had at least two sons; d. 26 Feb. 1853 in Jacksonville, Fla.
Of New England planter stock, Richard E. Burpee became a general merchant in Fredericton. There he was converted and baptized on 21 Nov. 1829, joining the Brunswick Street Baptist Church. Burpee quickly became a leading member of that congregation, where he was greatly influenced by the ministry of the Reverend Frederick W. Miles*, a keen advocate of foreign missions. Feeling himself called to the ministry, he was licensed to preach in 1836 or 1837. Then, on 7 Sept. 1837, he was ordained as the first minister of St George’s Baptist Church (western branch).
As early as 1814 the Baptists of Nova Scotia and New Brunswick had expressed concern for “the poor heathen” in foreign lands. During the next two decades the Baptist denomination in the Maritimes grew significantly and so did interest in the oversea mission field. In June 1838 the Nova Scotia Baptist Association, “having taken into serious consideration the lamentable condition of the heathen world,” asked its sister association in New Brunswick to join with it in “pledging themselves and the Churches to the adequate education and maintainance of some one suitable person as a Missionary in some foreign field.” The New Brunswick association warmly endorsed the proposal, and by the following year that “one suitable person” had been found.
Richard Burpee was 29 years old when he responded to the appeal in 1839. The next year, in preparation for service overseas, he entered the newly established Queen’s (after 1841 Acadia) College in Wolfville, N.S. Before graduating with a BA in 1844, he spent his summers fostering interest in the foreign missions throughout the Maritimes. By 1845 all the necessary arrangements had been made. Since the Baptists of the Maritimes did not have a mission station and could not afford one initially, it was arranged that Burpee and his wife would go as missionaries of the American Baptist Board of Foreign Missions, with Maritime Baptists committed to pay half of the expenses. After a very emotional farewell, the Burpees left Halifax on 20 April 1845, sailing to Burma via Boston.
The years in Burma, spent mostly at Mergui, among the Karens, were less successful than expected, although by 1848 Burpee had baptized his first converts. His health had begun to fail soon after his arrival and by 1849 he was forced to abandon the missionary enterprise. After his return to New Brunswick in 1850 his health continued to decline. He died three years later, probably of tuberculosis, in Florida, where he had gone for the climate.
However small his actual accomplishments in the mission field, to Maritime Baptists Burpee was the symbol of their brave new venture, the first of hundreds of such missionaries sent by that denomination. “Burpee” became a cherished, if unusual, Christian name given to generations of Baptist males. In addition, the desire to support Burpee and other Baptist mission endeavours was one of the most important factors bringing about, in 1846, the union of the New Brunswick and Nova Scotia Baptist associations to form the Baptist Convention of Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island (now the United Baptist Convention of the Atlantic Provinces).
ABHC, Fredericton, Brunswick Street United Baptist Church, membership lists to 1868; minutes, 1814–44; Edward Manning, corr., vol.8; journals. Baptist Missionary Magazine of Nova-Scotia and New-Brunswick (Saint John and Halifax), 1 (1827–29)–3 (1833); new ser., 1 (1834)–3 (1836). N.B. Baptist Assoc., Minutes (Fredericton; Saint John; Fredericton), 1835–38, 1844. N.S. and N.B. Baptist Assoc., Minutes (Saint John), 1814. N.S. Baptist Assoc., Minutes (Halifax), 1838. Christian Messenger (Halifax), 20 Oct. 1837; 19 July, 6 Sept. 1844; 1848–50. The Acadia record, 1838–1953, comp. Watson Kirkconnell (4th ed., Wolfville, N.S., 1953). Bill, Fifty years with Baptist ministers. Eaton, Hist. of King’s County. Levy, Baptists of Maritime prov. R. S. Longley, Acadia University, 1838–1938 (Wolfville, 1939). E. M. Saunders, History of the Baptists of the Maritime provinces (Halifax, 1902). E. C. Wright, The loyalists of New Brunswick (Fredericton, 1955; repr. Moncton, N.B., 1972).